Tommy Cooper (1921-1984)was a Welsh ‘prop’ comedian and magician who made an art form of getting magic tricks wrong.[audio:Do_You_Need_a_Hat_06-09-2007.mp3]
On Friday I spent a couple of hours altering the decoration on a hat. I think by now you all realise that I am happy whenever I have a needlework project on my hands. The hat is not my own or like anything I might sport. A very good friend and neighbour will be attending her grandson’s wedding in the middle of September. Despite several shopping trips she failed to find a suitable hat to blend with her outfit.
In desperation she rummaged through several old hat boxes and found one the correct colour. She decided to change the decoration to freshen it up and to bring in another tone from her outfit. As soon as I heard this my fingers began to itch, so I offered to assist or do the decoration for her. The relief was obvious on her face and in her voice, so a happy Grannymar arrived home with the hat and all the bits and pieces.
As I sat contentedly hand sewing, my mind wandered back to the very first hat that my mum and I made together. It was about 1962 and the hat was to match a dress my mother bought for the wedding of her youngest brother. Like my friend, mammy and I had trailed Dublin to find the right hat. Mammy worked in Millinery in her early days and was the most difficult person to please when it came to buying hats for herself.
One evening as we prepared dinner we discussed her hat problem and were trying to decide where to try next. One of my brothers danced into the kitchen sporting a Tommy Cooper type Fez. It was a survivor from the Christmas festivities. I noticed Mammy looking at the hat, yet saying nothing.
Later that evening Mammy said to me “Where did that paper hat go?” I found it and we examined how it was put together. Inside was a 4 inch band of stiff card to form the shape and this was covered with red crepe paper and finished with a fine tassel.
Since mammy had some fabric that toned in with her dress we decided it would be possible to make a hat based on this shape. Before bed time we had a basic hat completed. “It needs to be livened up” said mammy. “I think we might get some net to decorate it in town tomorrow.
Our trip to town was fruitful and we came home with a beautiful black & dark green net. We happily draped it this way and that before deciding finally which looked the most elegant. To catch and hide the ends of the net, we covered a button with the base fabric and stitched it in place.
Mammy looked elegant on the day of the wedding and her hat was greatly admired. She took great pride in our work and smiled as she said to me “I never told them it only cost me three shillings and seven pence!” All we needed to purchase was the net.